Beachroad Magazine chats to author Jan Constable who upped sticks from Surrey, England in 1970 and tiptoed into life in Dubai, Jan recently published her book ‘The Adventures of a Girl Wearing Pearls’ about the highs and lows of expat life.
You arrived in the Middle East in 1970, what were your initial thoughts on arriving? // Get me out of here! Like everybody else I’m sure, on stepping out of the plane and taking that hit of heat, my considered opinion was, is this Dubai or Dante’s Inferno? Unfortunately, I discovered rather rapidly that, yes, it was Dubai and oh my God I was destined to be here for a year! Would I survive!!
What did you miss about London when you left? // Silly question! What didn’t I miss?. Difficult I know but cast your mind back if you will, yes, it’s almost 5O years and Dubai was a very different place from today’s Dubai, which as we all know, is a shopping paradise, especially for those ‘ladies’ who like to shop ‘till they drop. I was one of those ladies, still am, but disaster struck there where few shops in those far off days, except for the Souk!
It was a question of ‘eat to live’ and not live to eat’! We lived in Deira and other than the Souk, Vegetable/Fish market etc., there was only one supermarket called Hasani's, which had seen better days even then! It definitely was Hobson’s choice! Harrods Food Hall it was not! I can honestly say I just about had a blue fit on entering this shop for the first time! – I had to adjust my shopping habits rather rapidly – Happily, I survived!
Your blog "Tiptoeing into the Bloody Abroad" would eventually lead to your book "The Adventures of a Girl Wearing Pearls” Getting a book published is a mammoth task, what were the challenges and learning curves along the way? // What do they say ignorance is bliss! If I had had an once of wit and done a little homework on how to write and publish a Blog and then having the mad cap idea of turning it into a book I would have known that it would be a challenge to end all challenges and that I had definitely ‘gone round the bend’! My initial task was actually setting up the Blog, I’m sure the chaps at Wordpress thought they were dealing with the village idiot, I have no doubt that they were correct, as I will happily admit that I was an old dog trying to learn new tricks – An uphill struggle ensued and learn I did, and along the way the Blog gathered 2 million hits, quite a fan club, with suggestions that it should be morphed into a book! It was definitely not my idea!! More nightmares ensued, as once again, if I had known what would be required I would have, quite definitely said, no way Jose!
But you pulled it off, a great achievement.// It’s difficult to describe to the uninitiated just how exacting it is to ‘publish’ a book, every letter, every word on every line has to be as you intended otherwise, chaos reigns. As a total novice and most definitely a late developer it was quite honestly a monumental challenge – I’m sure I will never be the same again! – Yes, it was a learning curve to end all learning curves!! Ah, but when I look at ‘my girl’ wearing those pearls all those doubts and tears melt away! - I will never know how, my book, The Adventures of a Girl Wearing Pearls, was achieved, but I now believe in miracles!
What were your favourite places / areas in Old Dubai? // Definitely the Gold Souk! My take on the evolution of Dubai, can be summoned up in one word Amazing, a credit to the visionary Sheik Rashid.
You have lived and travelled in many places, which were the stand out Destinations you most enjoyed? // Hong Kong, Kenya, Istanbul but always Dubai
What advice would you give someone who was thinking of trying the expat life experience? // One can’t try the Ex-pat experience that’s not an option – You either embrace your new country and enjoy what she has to offer with open arms or I would respectively suggest stay where you are.
Jan answers the Beachroad Magazine Q&A
NAME? // Jan Constable.
YOUR FIRST JOB? // Impossible secretary.
YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION? // Author.
YOUR GREATEST LOVE? // My husband.
YOUR GREATEST FEAR? // That nobody buys my book.
IF YOU COULD HAVE A MEAL WITH ANYONE ALIVE OR DEAD WHO WOULD IT BE? // Someone who would make me laugh.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR ? // Me.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY? // Messing about in boats.
WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY? // My mother she was so dynamic.
WHAT WAS THE LAST GIFT YOU GAVE SOMEONE? // My book.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CHILDREN? // Enjoy the world.
YOUR WORST TRAIT? // Too much shopping.
THE WORST TRAIT IN OTHERS THAT GETS YOU MAD? // People not buying my book.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOUR PART IN A MOVIE? // Somebody beautiful.
FAVOURITE MUSIC? // Traditional Jazz.
LAST RECORD OR DOWNLOAD YOU BOUGHT? // Too many to mention.
FAVOURITE BOOK? // The adventures of a girl wearing pearls.
LAST BOOK YOU BOUGHT? // There is only one in my life these days.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU? // It's not who, its life itself.
THE CLOSEST YOU HAVE COME TO DEATH? // Being caught up in a deadly rolling wave in the Pacific Ocean.
FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // Dubai then and now.
LEAST FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // None.
HOW DO YOU RELAX? // Sailing and swimming.
WHY DUBAI? // I had no option I was a good camp follower.
ARE YOU SPORTY? // Yes.
BEACH OR DESERT? // Beach.
URBAN OR RURAL? // Urban.
CATS OR DOGS? // Dogs.
COFFEE OR TEA? // Coffee.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH? // A funny joke.
WHAT MAKES YOU CRY? // A sad film.
YOUR MESSAGE? // Live it, love it enjoy it but every so often take a moment to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that your, Beachroad, ended just past the Zoo that was where habitation morphed into desert – My message has to be, Dubai I salute you! What an achievement!